Last Sunday evening, March 20, RedCat and Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater in downtown Los Angeles hosted Studio: Winter 2016. The event brought together six performances showcasing live performances of work-in-progress projects that ranged from interpretative dance numbers, an audience-driven, music-through-motion experiment, and a presentation of movie clips in a new art form called “Neo benshi” (movie talking). And, among the performances, there was one stand out: Run Downhill’s performance in which they blend animation and music resulting in a technique they refer to as “Song Comics.”
The world of comics is an ever-evolving medium as creators explore digital technology, the Guided View Native from ComiXology, and other methods that expands one’s engagement with comics. As a result, comics are no longer confined to the traditional paper format, and the concept of adding music to comics seems like a natural progression in the development of the medium, especially since music can lead and heighten the emotional experience for the reader.
T.J. Troy, comic book writer and Grammy Award-winning musician, wrote Spurs, a story that explores overarching themes of conflict, loss, and salvation in a tale of mystery, murder, and madness wrapped up in the garb of a western. Troy partnered with artist Chris McFann, whose watercolor style of illustration complements Troy’s tragic and haunting tale. McFann spotlights the hardships experienced by the characters by rendering their faces in extreme close-up – from thoughtful and introspective to confusion and anguish – the emotional impact of adversity is revealed. Troy added the lettering, while Clayton Crain and McFann collaborated on the cover art.
Run Downhill is usually a five-piece ensemble; however at the RedCat event, Troy was joined by Colin Burgess and Nate LaPointe. The trio performed “Fever” and “It’s All About the Money” to accompany panels and animated speech bubbles from chapters 7 and 8 which are included in Spurs #2.2. They also performed “I Beg Your Pardon” to the forthcoming chapter 9 that is a work in progress being edited by Juli Emmel. Run Downhill’s sound could be described as a mix of folk and rock with the rich country sound of Troy’s vocals. Adding the projected visuals on the large screen behind the musicians resulted in a powerful transmedia experience for the audience in attendance.
Although not quite the same experience of attending a live performance, Spurs #2.2 includes a bonus EP titled “Midnight Road Trip” from Run Downhill. The CD has seven tracks that includes the three songs performed Sunday evening. In addition to the EP, Troy included all of the tracks’ lyrics at the back of the comics.